On the panel of intercom buttons in the large apartment complex where Danny resides in the West Village, the buzzer for 8N is shaped now more like a pencil eraser utilized with an attentive concern by the user to wear down each manufacturer-sharp, conic-angle as evenly as possible so that the erosion of the eraser is symmetrical, resulting in a(n) uniformly rounded pink protuberance. The button, the one that should read 8N, disappears into the sea of similar black buttons, especially since it has been depressed so many thousands of times in the now 30-plus years in which Danny has lived there, so much so that even the engraved alpha-numeric apartment signifier, which at one point was painted white to, ya know, be readable against the ebony polymer of the button itself, is nothing more than a faint indentation on an otherwise smooth surface, only recognizable now via our sensory inputs for "touch" since it is no longer visible with the naked eye. But the thing isn't just simply smooth. The button has that sort of glossy wear that connotes a vast importance. The sheen is like that of the over-polished anatomical parts of polytheistic religions' deities cast in bronze where the patina covering the rest of the statue looks to be rubbed painfully raw. The bellies/noses/crotches, etc. are caressed or kissed every single day for an uncountable number of years by thousands and thousands of tourists/devotees/those on pilgrimages/or the just plain superstitious, to garner whatever good luck one can glean from a brief molestation of the relic of one’s choosing. So, not counting the recollections of people with religion-induced schizotypal disorders or those having brief psychotic episodes, I feel unique in that my relic is the only one that actually answers back, "*CLICK*Hel—t's ope—*CLICK*Hello, hel—pen the doo—are you i—HELLOOOOO—oddamnfucki—*CLICK*," in the staticky, on/off, in and out in and out, bad-connection-worse-wiring syncretic language that New Yorkers have learned to conduct entire conversations in, since no matter what kind of building you inhabit—whether it's a penthouse overlooking the park or a squatted warehouse in the most spray-painted, broken-windowed recesses of Brooklyn—somehow all intercoms are in the exact same condition of disrepair. See, this was the first time I had ever been to Danny's and of course, these are all things that I would have to parse out later, sorta like looking for the right receipts in fat, overstuffed envelopes come tax time. Because, I mean, I'm no neuroscientist, but for whatever reason—even if we don't know it when an event is happening—moments that may not seem significant at the time but later turn out to be, like, majorly important—especially upon recall—have a way of being so full of detail, so hi-res, that dissecting them becomes a chore better suited for computerized sensors and electron microscopes than the mere (and unfortunately) unreliable tools at our biologically available disposal: eyeballs, nerve endings, and our ability (or lack thereof) to put words together to form sentences called language. And most of us (well, most of us lazy Americans, anyway... ) probably use only one of the nearly 7,000 languages still thought of as "living" according to the last popular estimate (and, at least for the purposes of writing for specific countries and then demographics within those countries, it helps to only use one language at a time (not that I speak any others, give or take a few Spanish phrases that can get a laugh in any kitchen in the U.S. but definitely don't prove helpful in writing a book... at least haven't yet anyway)). Using a single language is, for obvious reasons I hope, only the more limiting in its ability to articulate the circumstances given that—according to anyone whose native tongue is anything other than English—events, morals, adages, quips, retorts, punch lines, rebuttals, refusals, afterthoughts, introductions, formality vs. familiarity somehow always either "sound better in ___________," or, "it doesn't really translate from ___________," or they even have their own saying for every peculiar aspect of humanity in ___________ (insert your great great grandmother's arterial language in the blanks). So in describing the significance of this moment in front of Danny’s buzzer, I am limited to a couple million or so combinations of words from only one out of almost 7,000 other languages, which is not really all that much in the scheme of anything, especially in the "world in which we live," and especially in direct comparison to all of the (I will readily admit) much more exciting mediums at our fingertips. Just think of it in computer terms: which files take up the least space on your hard drive? Correct. Any text only document.
An ANECDOTAL EXAMPLE (of SORTS): The VALUE of WORDS
Sometimes it may look like you have too much space being taken up by .doc files but then you go to check the amount of space your entire folder from Anthropology 202 class, or whatever, takes up on your drive when you need to download the latest episode of GIRLS and have to find more stuff to delete just so you can fit it onto your laptop without having to dig up your external drive for the extra space necessary. You think that all those notes, exams, first drafts, third drafts, term papers—maybe hundreds of items in all—must be taking up severe real estate on your hard drive and you CONTROL+CLICK, OPTIONS, GET INFO, then wait those agonizing seconds as the little rainbow spinny-wheel drives you insane... only to find out that that whole goddamn folder barely takes up a megabyte!!! Now, compare this example to the last time you tried to add more than two pictures to any email without taking the resolution of them down to The Legend of Zelda-status. Suddenly you can't even send the fucking thing because it's over the 10MB limit for your average email! I guess way the Hell back when adages were invented they had no way of calculating the real measures of just how different words and pictures would be, but now that we can put them side by side, pictures are literally worth millions and millions and millions of words. Wanna add sound? Multiply the file size of the picture times itself. Now wanna add movement to those pictures with the sound? Multiply that new number times itself. We've had such information inflation that one of our first great innovations as a species, language, is now the devalued money of failing nations. Words now are like Deutschmarks right before WWII. Remember those pictures of the little kids standing by the wheelbarrows toppling over with unusable currency? The maybe-true maybe not, fact or factoid, that the currency was worth more used as tinder than as money? That's what words are in our newly-digital world. And what more apt a symbol of rapid decline, that of a fireplace full of Deutschmarks, to not only strengthen my metaphor of the depreciation of the written word but to also bring up the matter of veracity in storytelling: were these stacks of Deutschmarks actually warming those cold Teutonic nights, or was that just great hyperbolic imagery to add weight to an ever-increasingly unverifiable history?
ANOTHER BREAK for YOUR READING COMFORT
This all may seem disjointed—and well… that’s because it very much is. And purposefully so, at that. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
1. I am currently converting three different movies to .m4v format (Antichrist (2009); Dazed & Confused (1993); I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967)) so that I can watch them later on my AppleTV and I eagerly switch back and forth from window to window to see what is where on its conversion timeline.
2. I am downloading eight different movies on two separate applications (Vuze and µTorrent) which I find as enjoyable as cartoon drunkards find horse-racing—like, leaning over the rails, red-faced screaming and hollering as their horse takes the lead Now that I think about it, Danny loves this as much as I do. I have probably spent a decent portion of my time at his house with him watching the progress bar expand micrometer by micrometer with both of us cheering the screen and shaking our fists high in the air when we get some sort of astonishing DL speed (usually anything in the > 800 kb/s range is cheer-worthy and once it gets into anything over mb/s we both just stare in awe at the progress bars filling up as if we were pouring liquid into the tiny rectangles at the God-like speed. Danny will be downloading some French classic thought long unattainable, like Jean Renoir's La Marseillaise about one of Danny's favorite topics, the French Revolution, a film that neither me, a self-proclaimed French film snob/brat, nor Danny, a rabid Francophile and the man touted by everyone we interviewed about him as the single most knowledgeable man any of them have ever known (and, not to brag... but I gladly will ☺, these are people like Iggy Pop and Judy Collins, some really good people to have saying things like this about you), had ever even heard of! A movie by one of the greatest directors of all time about the French Revolution, which Danny says (feel free to start humming the Ramones tune anytime I put the phrase "Danny says" in here) is the "single most important event in the modern world," and here it is available for download at the double-click of a button!!! We both shrieked in ecstasy A) at it's mere existence, and B) at the fact that when he clicked on the magnet link for the torrent it was practically being launched at us through spacetime at a healthy >800 kb/s... while the usual slate of other downloadable offerings like fratfuckparty7.flv are shooting down Danny’s internet pipes). So, I have to keep checking on these the same way you check on things that cook in crockpots, not often but just enough so that nothing sticks to the sides.
3. I am in between five-minute interval viewings of The Original Faces of Death (all that I can stand at one time and for no other reason than I just haven't seen it yet) on what I am sure is a soon-to-be removed YouTube page.
4. IT'S 2012 GODDAMMIT!!! I have NO attention span left, and neither does anyone else in our culture. Everyone knows that reading is one of those things that most people do just to say they've done it, much like going to see the Stones in concert, visiting the Eiffel Tower, or donating to charity. Hell, even though Danny knows that a book will be written about him no matter what, he has still slighted my chosen profession (I use the word lightly) as "well... it's a little archaic, don't you think?" And, well... yeah, I do. I very much think so and that's exactly why this is purposefully disjointed: because there's no other way to do it.
5. These breaks are here to keep you reading. Just for the pure, physical act of what reading is. It is like being on a treadmill at the gym (who am I kidding, we all use the elliptical machine). For whatever reason, when you crank it up to a higher intensity you can always make it that extra little bit if you are within 5, 10, maybe 15 seconds of the next minute at that higher mph. I get all the David Foster Wallace rhetoric about reading being work but ultimately being rewarding when you do put that hard work into it, and I agree. But I also remember that quote of his where he said that he was, “… basically driven by a vapid urge to be avant-garde and linguistically calisthenic.” For all of you DFW slaves out there who are steaming at the fact that I might disparage the name of “Saint Dave” let me just point you toward that “vapid urge” and that awful thought of reading + exercise—P.E. class and English “together… at last!” (like the starred advertisement on Homer Simpson’s can of “Nuts & Gum” after he declares his inability to ever be wrong being a “white male age 18 – 49”). The thought of linguistic calisthenics, of me being nothing more than a wee Justin in elementary school (which I can smell right now just thinking about it, and I am sure you can too if you just think about the smell of your elementary school) and having to do jumping jacks as Mr. Morrison blows his whistle and then Mr. Hart comes in to ask us to recite the different verb clauses we’ve been studying, actually makes me shudder. Hellish visions if ever there were any. Reading is rewarding and as a writer I find that my research depends on me reading a lot, and reading a lot of things that I am just reading to say that I have read because that’s part of my job. (If all of it were fun it wouldn’t be a job now would it?) But I disagree with the late (and very great) Mr. Wallace: reading shouldn’t make me sweat. a. As a kid I hated reading so much that I felt compelled to do something about it. I started writing because reading was so much fucking work that I thought that I could help ease that burden a little bit for any of the few people who came into contact with my work.
6. So, yeah, this is disjointed. Because it helps. Breaks are important. Non sequiturs are natural. Especially in our informationally water-logged environment, I don’t see these things as getting “off task.” To me, this is advancement. I think most writers get so stuck on what tricks they’ve got lined up to tell the goddammed story and how to appeal to the committees of whatever award it is they’ve got their eyes set on that they forget the mechanics of what the reader has to go through, and the reader is the most important part of this equation. In their processes, writers forget what it is to hold a book (if books even exist by the time these words get to your pupils, which, I could give a flying fuck about the “death of print” or whatever else the Luddites are crying about these days), and to actually be the one sitting there doing the physical work of reading. Why do you think people constantly look ahead in books to see how long the rest of a chapter is before they decide to continue? Or why those terrible, terrible people flip to the last page first upon acquisition of a book? But you can’t stop them (even though they haven’t earned that last page, GOD that pisses me off). But, these are things people do when they read… but far less so when they see they get breaks coming up, or that chapters are at max five pages (Bukowski comes to mind here), or the text follows their wandering minds. The writer in this case makes readers out of people who otherwise wouldn’t touch a book with a ten-foot remote control. And people who don’t normally read are suddenly reading, effortlessly and enjoying it. Now, I don’t mean I want to dumb my writing down, or write fucking “tween” books, because I don’t… I guess I just want to write my equivalent of Ramones’ songs. Loud, fast and onto the next before you even know what happened… or at least give the reader the ability to short-attention-span (as a verb) along with me.
Okay. Now, think again about those other formats. Songs, pictures, movies. What is it that they’re doing for you that words aren’t?
“You. In the back of the class, yes?”
“Well, for one, sound, pictures, movies have one thing in common that words do not… ”
“Um, well, as the lines between the mediums are further blurred and contain more content simultaneously, they need less and less description to go along with the content itself as—well, if we just take movies for example, description is unnecessary as the content has been constructed for you. So much explanation only becomes extraneous when you can just watch a video—or listen to a recording, or gaze at a picture—of an event and see for yourself the details, that, while reading about the same event would have to be pieced together, word by word, one by one, by the reader themselves—”
“—the color of the sky, the time of year, time of day, background events—”
“—historical context of events surrounding the ones focused upon, even what the people are wearing hav—”
“OKAY! For fuck’s sake! Ahem, I mean… thank you, thank you, Mr. McCluhan… ”
Hell, I’ll throw this in there just for fun, since I was just brushing up on my Marshall McCluhan to make that little joke up there, and since Mr. McCluhan’s observations re “hot” technologies, those which require little participation from the viewer other than sitting there slack-jawed, and “cool” technologies, those which require more participation on the part of the audience. I have taken the quote below from the (God forbid!!!) collegiately unallowable reference which is Wikipedia from someone who disagrees with Mr. McCluhan’s writing style. It seems particularly relevant within this diatribe of mine:
Dwight McDonald, in turn, reproached McLuhan for his focus on television and for his “aphoristic” style of prose, which he believes left Understanding Media filled with “contradictions, non-sequiturs, facts that are distorted and facts that are not facts, exaggerations, and chronic rhetorical vagueness.”
Sounds like fun to me! Hop on kids!!! Then why is this my desired medium? If words are devalued so much why do we still need them? I love that words need you to make them happen, because they require the reader to exist. Like the tree falling example, if a movie is showing in the forest somebody still had to push play, right? But a book on a shelf is nothing, and for that reason it’s the only medium where you yourself can still become part of the story. Whether it’s work or not you’re still putting it together yourself, which means it’s the only medium that is still participatory. And maybe that’s why I hate the idea of reading as work, because at it’s best a book builds itself on the structure of you, not the other way around. Every word is your choice, and all of the time you spend with any book is still fiercely your own. And because nobody gets “dragged to a book” the way you feel coming out of a shitty movie you didn’t want to see.
AND ANOTHER THING
I feel like—you know that feeling you got when you were in school and you knew you were the only one who knew the answer to the question the teacher just asked but you felt you had already answered too many times that day and you were kind of embarrassed about being called on so much because maybe it was getting show-offy or teacher’s pet-ish so you would still wait those couple extra seconds to see if anyone else was gonna raise their hand just so you wouldn’t have to even though you knew you were eventually gonna have to answer anyway just to get the fucking day over with? That’s how I feel about writing. I feel that there’s a lot of slack to pick up right now. I think words are only devalued because everyone who is using them is giving shitty answers and I’ve got no other choice to answer for everyone else in the class just to keep this thing moving along somehow… to just get us to tomorrow. Hell, maybe it’s cocky, but somebody’s gotta get this fucking thing right. And so what if I am wrong, huh? Maybe if nothing else I’ll have enough useless paper lying around to start some decent fires.
I DON’T WANNA…
But for this, this first moment standing in front of Danny's intercom panel, it’s just me. Before the twists and turns of memory, story-telling, thousandth recitation, or funny flourishes are put onto it, I am just standing in front of an intercom panel for five minutes. For most things, five minutes is the way in which we explain rapidity, like, "I need to stop at the bank real quick—I'll be five minutes, swear!" and the way in which we convey its minimal lack of interruption to whatever the first objective was. But, five minutes standing in front of a wall of buzzers is a LONG goddamn amount of time. Especially when you're already late and nervous and really don't have any idea what the Hell you're doing, what you're going to ask, what you're going to do, what gives you the right to be there and any other anxious, self-defeating things a person asks themselves when they achieve something they've wanted for so long but still aren't sure that they deserve.
HOW DO I LOOK?
Going to interview one of your heroes is like getting ready to go on the most difficult date of your life. Not that it has to go poorly, but these people have meant so much to you and you have already placed them on such a high pedestal that for the duration of the evening you will have the feeling of shouting 30 feet straight up into the air, with only one out of every 20 or so questions even making it to your hero's ears, and no matter what they answer, each word is said while looking way down at you. And like that most difficult date, you will envision all the people who have come before you in this person's life also standing around this pedestal, and they are all better looking, smarter, funnier, and unlike you, all of these other people are also standing on various sized pedestals—maybe not the same height as your hero—but they are on pedestals nonetheless—and you, you are on the ground.
À BOUT DE SOUFFLE
Little did I know while I was trapped there in that boxy glass entrance space of Danny’s doormanned building, that tight enclosed space between the unlocked first door and the locked inner door, that I have a certain look that I was very unaware of until Danny later brought it to my attention.
Stuck there and feeling so embarrassingly, loudly stupid with the doorman constantly peeking over but still pretending to ignore me, probably hoping that I’d go away before coming into the building, after my searching and searching the panel for those five minutes, completely unable to piece together how the buttons were ordered or why, and in that humid early-evening in June, with panicked sweat stains spreading underneath my arms in that claustrophobic space between doors which always reminds me of locking chutes or hatches or whatever in space movies where “no one can hear you scream”—the spaces which always have the limited supplies of oxygen that are always shown with rapidly diminishing percentages in blinking red digital numbers—I was sure to die. The first person ever to stupid themselves to death. And still, even worse than me dying due to the unlivable atmospheric conditions for human beings in tight entranceways to fancy buildings, was mainly that all of this meant that I was too late and too stupid and that I had already offended the “legendary” Danny Fields and even if I could find the fucking button that it would never matter because I already—
“Can I help you?”
Holy Hell I can breathe, thank God you opened the door, doorman, “Um… yeah, hi, I’m… I’m looking for—”
How did he know that I? I mean, “… yeah? I mean, yes, thank you.”
I would soon find that the doorman knew immediately where I was headed since I have the striking appearance of a young male prostitute.
And he presses the button that I couldn’t find because of all the things I have now told you about it. It’s only hidden the first time you go there, though. Only camouflaged once because of its overuse, and now that I know which one it is it stands out more than all of the others. I ride the elevator to the eighth floor and try to hide some of my perspiration. The elevator doors open, here I am, and I round two corners before I finally find it, 8N, about to knock when Danny answers bashfully, “Ohhhhh, I’m sorry. I forgot where we said we were going to meet… ”
The intercom button to Danny's apartment is so perfectly symbolic of Danny himself that I've always been afraid of it coming off as literarily ridiculous were I to use it to describe him. Poetic license taken to its furthest "give them an inch and they take a mile" limits. Something made up or exaggerated to prove the author's point—I mean not even just to prove the point, but to, like, hammer it in so hard as to cause hemorrhaging. So ridiculous as maybe to belie some premeditated introduction the writer (me) had contrived even before having seen it, which, all taken into account, made me worried when I finally arrived at Danny's and saw that damn thing that it would just… that it’d all be too much.
But that is him. I mean, now he’s just “my little Danny guy” when I talk about him to others, but that’s after a few years of him being my only real friend.
I guess—what I've been meaning to say is that I’m just always amazed when I see him. I'm amazed that a man who has done SO much, could be hiding right there, camouflaged as everybody else.